All About Control

I definitely saw some pretty crazy and intense things during my three-month stay at inpatient. There was one girl who came in for bulimia, and during the morning weigh ins, she would somehow smuggle rocks in her undergarments to make herself weigh more. Like I said, every ounce counts at inpatient. This was the same girl who used to throw up in the bushes in the middle of the night.

I was not without my own deceitful activity either, though. I already mentioned my “water loading” before weigh ins. Even though that was to make up for the abnormally high entrance weight, I had to keep it up, petrified that they would take away my walking privileges. I had to ride in the golf cart, or “People Mover” for weeks when I first arrived because my weight was so dangerously low. Also, after meals, we would play the card game, “Nerts.” This group game was a lot like “Speed,” and it got pretty intense. I would purposely get up and down out of my seat when things got really “exciting,” and jiggle my legs up and down underneath the table to burn calories. The nurses were totally on to me, and even wrote it up in my chart. Little vices. Little ways that I thought gave me “control.”

Because that’s the name of the game. Anorexia is all about control: Controlling your food, your portions, your weight, your exercise, etc. Your life is out of balance, and you feel out of control, so you latch onto the one thing you find out you can control: your weight. Inpatient strips you of that control. They tell you when to sleep. What to eat. When to eat. What you can or can’t do. Privacy is nonexistent. You couldn’t even flush the toilets by yourself – the nurses did for you. This was to ensure that there was no bulimic activity going on. Inpatient makes you surrender everything, so that you can “heal” and relearn how to trust food and trust your body. Not that it really gets to root of it all – it does get close. But I will say, that they save your life and get the weight on so you don’t die.

One episode that really sticks out in my head was when a bulimic patient came in who was addicted to drugs, and in a belligerent state – OD-ing on some sort of narcotic. I remember her arriving in handcuffs, chained to the stretcher, screaming profanity. We had to watch her go through withdrawal and it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen.

It was really eye-opening for me to hear the other women’s stories. There were former gymnasts and ice dancers, victims of rape or abuse, international women, and professional athletes. The majority of the women had been to inpatient before – some several times. There were a couple of women who were in their 40’s and had been battling the disease for decades. I remember thinking how sorry I felt that their lives had been wrecked by this horrible disease. Little did I know that that’s just par for the course.

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The Golden Road to Hell

The days at inpatient were long, regimented, and monitored. You ate three meals a day and two snacks between meals. You would have a therapy session every day, either one-on-one with your shrink, or in your “home” group of 4-6 girls. Free time was spent reading, playing cards, doing art, coloring – yes, adults coloring – and just talking with your fellow inmates – I mean inpatients. There was no TV, no music, just you, and your self-destructive thoughts. There was an activity every day, ranging from different breakout groups, like ANA anonymous, equine therapy, art therapy, body image, health classes, bulimia group, etc. My favorite daily activity though, was chapel. Every day for an hour you’d go and hear a sermon and sing some really moving music. On my 14th day there, I had a “mountain top” experience at chapel. Let’s just say I learned that Jesus truly forgave me. I was a blubbering mess of joyful tears after singing the song lyric, “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that Cross.” It still takes my breath away when I think about that moment. I will go into more detail about it in a later entry. I am awaiting the arrival of my inpatient journals from home. But the long and the short of it is that after that experience, things did really start to change for me – for a time. Not only did I accept the fact that I did have an eating disorder, but I confessed everything to my parents. But I’m getting ahead of myself…that’s for another night…

One of my first nights there, at around midnight, I was in bed, and I think I realized that three months was going to be a long ass time. It had only been three days and it already felt like a lifetime. I think I thought that if I could just get the weight on that they’d let me go home early or something. Anyways, I went to the nurses’ station (my room was right there, remember?) and I asked for more supplements: i.e., weight gaining drinks: Ensure Plus, Boost Plus, Boost Pudding, etc. The dietician already had me at the highest amount of supplements they’d issue for safe weight gain (they didn’t want to send the body into shock and Refeeding Syndrome). But I went to the night nurse anyway and asked for more supplement. I explained that I just felt hungry and wanted more calories. So I sat right there and ate 3 Boost Puddings in a row. Bam! 900 calories. Thinking back, that nurse probably could have been fired for that, but how could she argue with a 78 pound anorexic girl begging for weight gaining supplement? I mean, come on, now!? I was told in the morning that I was the only patient that had ever asked for more supplement, let alone three in a row! And that was it. That was my ticket in. With that action, I had become the “golden girl” of the eating disorder treatment clinic. Just how I wanted it, or rather, just how my eating disorder wanted it.

You see, that’s how it all started. Growing up, one could say I was the “golden girl.” My parents and my friends joked that everything I touched turned to gold. You see, I had a wonderful childhood. I had two loving parents, two older siblings and from the age of five, a successful acting career. I excelled in school, had lots of friends, went to church every Sunday, and was good at sports. I loved all things feminine. My entire wardrobe was from Abercrombie – up to and including my underwear. This was known among my friends and they used to joke that I was “perfect.” I remember in particular my one friend would say “I’m Suzie Q. I only wear Abercrombie and I am a size 0.” This used to bother me, but I would laugh it off, and if I’m being honest, a small part of me kind of liked the attention. That seed was planted in sixth grade.

So my sophomore year for Lent I decided to give up sweets. “I’m being a good Catholic, challenging myself.” And as the perfectionist I was, I didn’t cheat once. Now this is where it started. I lost a little weight during this 40 day period, and to be honest, I liked it. I liked the control, and I like being tiny. During this time I also entered the Miss Teen pageant. I had never done anything like that before and looking back now I can see the vanity slowly creeping into my life. At the time I was dating one of the football captains. I remember one day in class, my boyfriend’s friend and fellow captain, made an announcement that all the guys were talking in the locker room about how my boyfriend was dating a model — aka, me. That was the first time I can remember truly caring and loving the attention I was getting for my physical appearance.

A few days later I was nominated for homecoming court as a freshman. Looking back I can see that my appearance and persona was becoming an idol in my own mind.

Additionally, I was the only freshman to make the varsity volleyball team, which was a pretty big deal. I liked the attention from the senior boys and the new popularity with my upperclass teammates. The recognition at school wasn’t so bad either.

It was also at this time that my friends started drinking alcohol underage. My boyfriend at the time was a good Christian boy and we shared similar morals regarding underage drinking and premarital sex. Being the unwavering perfectionist that I am, I didn’t drink or smoke in high school, regardless of my friends’ choices. And being that our friends were all football players and the like, let’s just say they didn’t share the same values. I was at these parties where all my friends were drunk around me, and I felt like such an outsider. Isolated. Like I was being left behind. How is it that surrounded by all my friends, I felt so alone? And I think, instead of accepting and allowing myself to feel that loneliness – that feeling of being a worthless failure – I leaned into the image of being perfect and unattainable. Gosh darn it, I was going to be set apart for a good reason – I was going to be the “Golden Girl.”

That spring I got the lead in the school play and again didn’t mind the attention. And then something happened that made my life come to a screeching halt: I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. This is an autoimmune disease that affects the digestive system like Crohn’s. Food became my enemy as it truly did hurt to eat and I was in excruciating pain all day. I was put on steroids to get me out of the flare. Here’s the thing: steroids heal the inflammation, but also alter a person’s psyche. When I went on steroids, my doctor told me that a side effect was that a lot of women gained weight. Sirens went off in my mind. Oh hell no. There is no way in hell that I’m going to succumb to weight gain from a damn pill. This thinking, on top of the mental changes brought on by the steroids, manifested itself with an obsession in my mind to not gain weight. And so began the saga of the eating disorder and the deception that comes along with it.

Fast forward the clocks a year, and I’ve wasted away to nothing, lost most my friends, betrayed the people I love the most, threw away my future, and am stuck in Arizona at an eating disorder clinic while my friends are attending graduation parties and getting ready for college in the fall.

Guilty Until Proven Otherwise

I don’t know exactly how long I was in that back room that first day of inpatient, but it seemed like hours. I got weighed. Examined. Blood work done. Vitals taken. During my first 2 weeks, I had to have my vitals taken every 3 hours. And I wasn’t allowed to walk anywhere on the ranch for the first month. Not that we went anywhere. But we did go to chapel every day, a therapy session, and an activity – like therapeutic art, equine therapy, or other body image seminars. For those “trips” – which were a 3 minute walk –. I had to ride in a golf cart, called the “People Mover,” so as not to burn calories. Apparently, they were afraid I was going to die.

In actuality, they were. You see, I learned after I left that I was the most severe case to have ever come through R. And please don’t take that as me “bragging.” It is humiliating, but it just shows you how sick I really was. At 5’6” and 78 pounds, the doctors couldn’t believe that my heart hadn’t stopped. It was literally a miracle that I was alive. But as a result, they were extra strict with my care plan. Most patients move into one of the bunk houses, which are a 3 minute walk from the rec house, which houses the nurses’ station. For the first month, I had to sleep in a special room attached to the nurses’ station. This was so they could monitor me when I was sleeping, to make sure I didn’t die. You see, when you’re so malnourished and depleted and you start eating a highly caloric diet, your body can go into shock, or “refeeding syndrome” and you can actually die from over stressing your heart. So there’s that.

But back to that first day. After the hellish experience in the examination room, I was taken to my room at the nurses’ station. I had a roommate who was bulimic. I remember seeing her and thinking how pretty she was. I also literally remember thinking, “Thank God I’m not bulimic. How disgusting.” Oh, hello Pot, meet Kettle.

But anyways, the nurse unpacked for me. In fact, I wasn’t even allowed to touch my things. I had to watch as she went through my stuff. I felt so violated, but that’s what inpatient does: it breaks you. So I had to watch as she went through my suitcase full of my exercise ball, medicines, apple cider vinegar, supplements, etc. “But how is my pyloric valve going to empty if I don’t have my apple cider vinegar to correct the acidity level in my stomach?!” – “You’ll live.”

I also found out that a lot of the things I brought were considered “contraband.” For example, my make up compacts had to be taken away and have the mirrors taken out. Girls could apparently use the mirrors to cut themselves. Books that my mother had given me to read were taken away because they weren’t on the “approved list.” Magazines were taken away because of “triggering images,” aka, models. I brought a tee-shirt that had the Diet Coke logo on it, (hey, it was the mid ‘00’s, give me a break) – and that was discarded because that was triggering. I learned later from a self-proclaimed “professional bulimic” that Diet Coke, or “DC” as the they lovingly called it, helped them to purge their food after binging. Also, many of my clothes were deemed “too revealing” and could be triggering to people. Apparently seeing my bony shoulders in a tank top was worse than seeing them in a three-finger-wide sleeveless. But I digress. I was the exemplary patient – I would comply with every rule and regulation.

On my first day there, I had to decided whether I would gain weight via supplements or through the NG (nasogastric feeding tube) that I saw coming out of many of the girls’ noses. I would be damned if I was going to have another tube prodded inside of me. I had already had more colonoscopies than your average senior citizen. No way I was going to get one going in the other end. And additionally, I wanted to put the calories in by my own doing – willfully. Maybe it was a subconscious act of self-loathing or another way to punish myself, but I had already committed to getting the weight on (in order to leave), so I might as well put the damn food in my own damn pie hole. Plus, the perfectionist/overachiever in me saw the NG tube as the easy way out. I wanted the challenge. Bring it on.

My first couple of days were a whirlwind of doctors appointments, dietician meetings, and therapy sessions – both group and individual. After all, even though R may seem like an episode of “Salute Your Shorts” meets “Hey Dude,” it actually is a hospital. I remember telling my Ulcerative Colitis history over and over to each doctor, and them basically throwing it out, and just getting back to “…But your anorexia…” I would adamantly explain and explain myself, saying, “No, no. I don’t HAVE an eating disorder! It’s UC!” But you see, even though there were large portions of my UC history that were valid and actually true contributors to the weight loss, the fact remained that I was definitely, and positively anorexic too. They saw through that and were waiting for me to own up to it.

Note to self, when you’re in an eating disorder clinic, you have NO credibility whatsoever. None. You’re guilty until proven otherwise. You see, these doctors have seen everything. People suffering with eating disorders are masters of deception, so these doctors have had to become keen detectives for the truth and for “BS.”

Go Big or Go Home

Inpatient was hell on earth. And I say that in the most loving way possible. I will say this: it saved my life, but it did not “cure me” of my eating disorder. I showed up at 78 pounds, barely holding on, and left 87 days later, 25 pounds heavier and physically stable. But that’s where it ended. When I left, I was so completely terrified of the weight I had gained that I relapsed harder than at the onset of my disease. But let’s go back to the beginning.

After I had consented to go to inpatient, I had 24 hours to pack up my things and fly out to Arizona to –we’ll call it “R.” It was the best eating disorder inpatient clinic in the country. Mary Kate Olsen, as well as several other “A-List” patients have “served their time” here. Back in the mid 2000’s when I went, it was a different place than it is now. Ringing in at over $160,000 –yes, you read that right- it was the best and only option.

My parents flew out with me. I had packed up my clothes, which, although we were going to the desert, consisted of mainly cold weather things, since my body was always freezing. Then, I had my “ED bag” – an entire suitcase filled with the cocktail of pills and supplements I was taking, my walking shoes, my exercise ball to “stretch” with, etcetera etcetera.

The plane ride over was terrifying. Not because of the flight, but because of how scared I was of the impending doom. I knew I was going to have to eat and actually gain weight.

But here’s the thing: I knew that the minimum amount of time I could be there was three months. I also knew that at the end of the three months, that if I hadn’t gained enough weight to be “stable” and “healthy,” that they would make me stay longer. Cue the slasher music.
So already going into it, I knew that I was going to “go big.” From as far back as I can remember, my motto was always, “go big or go home,” and that was precisely what I did. I knew that if I could just play the game, I could get on my way. The perfectionist in me kicked in. I’d gain that F-ing weight, be the absolute best patient they’d ever seen, say all the right answers, and then get the f#ck outta there after three months, and not a day more. That was what I was going to do. Check the box, get the hell out, and then get the weight off. That was my plan. And it was starting the minute I found out that they would keep me longer than the three months if need be.

So, on the plane over there, I ATE. My entire carry on bag was filled with cereal and snacks and water. I was gonna put that f-ing weight on, and fast. Granted, I was scared shitless, so I was wiggling my legs the entire time to burn calories, but I was going to get those numbers up so I could go home.

When I got to R, they checked me into the front desk, at a lovely, Spanish style building. Then they drove my parents and I out in a golf cart to the rec room where I would be spending my days. It almost seemed like a daycare for adults: there were two round dining/craft tables, which each sat about 8 people. There was a couch, cubbies, a “food window” where food was served, art supplies, and a nurses’ station. When I arrived, there were about 15 girls, who were playing cards, journaling, or reading. About 10 of them had feeding tubes coming out of their noses. I felt an all over hotness – a flush of fear and anxiety, but I knew that my 90 days were ticking. It was time to do what I came to do so I could leave. So I kissed my parents goodbye and marched my way into my resident hell for the next three months.

After my parents left, it was like a switch was flipped and I was instantly pummeled into a vortex. I was taken into a back examination room. I was freezing. Scared. Freaked out by the girls with tubes in their noses. The nurses were being frightfully mean and firm, but I know now that this is because they never know if the patient will be belligerent or cooperative. And I learned after being there for a month, belligerence happens more often than not.

“Strip and put on the gown. We’re taking your weight and doing a body check.”

I was literally shaking with cold from the air conditioning. Being forced to take off my clothes and put on a paper gown was sheer torture. Not only that, but I had “water loaded” and not pooped in addition to stuffing my face on the plane so that I would weigh as much as I possibly could for my entrance weight. “Water loading” is when you drink as much water as you can bear before weighing in so that you get an inaccurately high read. It may not seem like much, but every ounce counts in inpatient. The problem in this plan (aside from the dangers of water loading) was that I would have an inaccurate “starting weight.” As a result, I would have to water load every morning before weigh in to compensate.

So there I was, having to pee so freaking much it was unbearable. I mean, I have never had to pee or go to the bathroom so badly in my life! But I had to get weighed first so that I could make it count. Then to top it off, I couldn’t pee directly afterwards, or it would be obvious that I had water loaded. So not only was I trembling with cold, but I was also ready to explode like Niagara Falls. But they had to do the body check first.

I’ll tell you what, there’s not much more humbling in life than shivering, naked in front of strangers at 78 pounds as they check every inch of your body to see if you’ve been cutting or self harming yourself. Not. Much. Well, except for when my hair fell out. That was a close second.

Simultaneously a tray was slammed down in front of me consisting of chicken noodle soup, saltine crackers, a mandarin orange cup, milk, and a cookie. ‘Oh God,” I thought, “I just ate all that on the plane. How am I possibly going to eat this too?” “Oh God, is that a cookie?” I was terrified of the butter in the cookie. No way was I going to eat that cookie.

“Eat.” The stern woman with the large breasts gave me a cold, dead look that read, “try me.” Well, alrighty then. Put the weight on so I can get the hell out. Challenge accepted. Cookie and all.

While all this was going on, I felt like my head was spinning. These women were so cold to me and kept asking me, “So when did your eating disorder start?” “How long have you been anorexic?” “When did your eating disorder become so severe?” “Are you bulimic too?”

“But I’m not anorexic!” “I don’t have an eating disorder!” “It’s Ulcerative Colitis!” “I’m eating! I don’t have an eating disorder!” I kept trying to get it through to them. “I’m not anorexic!” I kept saying it and saying it, but these unyielding women would have none of it.

The Intervention

My getting to inpatient hospital was strictly against my will. I was 18 years old my senior year and legally an adult. Therefore, my parents could not legally commit me: I had to make the decision to go myself. Like that was going to happen…

An intervention was staged with five days left until graduation. First, my mom had my principal call me into the office and tell me that I could no longer attend school because I was a “liability.” I would still graduate, but I could no longer attend the school property. (I learned eight years later that my mom had my principal say this, and that it was all part of the intervention to get me to inpatient.) My parents called my siblings, their spouses, and our youth minister to be at home when I got home from school. A bed at the R. Eating Disorder Recovery Hospital (we’ll call it “R”) had just opened up – and the waiting list was daunting – years long. Not to mention $160,000. My mom had applied for a bed months ago without my knowledge. In order to get the bed, I had to leave the following day, and agree to inpatient for three months, missing my graduation.

My parents told me that if I didn’t agree to go, that they would turn me over to the state and I would be committed to a mental institution as a ward of the state. My dad had a lawyer draw the papers. I may have been headstrong, but this scared the hell out of me.

I was furious. I barricaded myself in my room. My father nearly broke the lock down. There was screaming. There was rage. I have never been so angry or enraged in my life. All I wanted was to walk with my class. To graduate. To get my diploma. I would be graduating with over a 4.0 GPA, and was the recipient of a drama scholarship. I wanted to graduate with my class. Five. More. Days.

But if I waited, the bed would not be available. And my parents told me that in five days I would be dead. I was 78 pounds. I should have died.

There was only one thing that got through to me. And that was my youth minister, Luke Rowfronter. He got about 2 inches away from my face, looked me straight in the eyes, and I swear to you, I saw Jesus. He said to me, “Do you know what you’re doing to your father?” I looked over at my dad. He had left the living room where everyone was sitting and had gone to the kitchen and was standing over the stove, trying to regain his composure. In that fraction of a second, I had a moment of clarity and I saw through the disease. I had a fraction of a second where I was her – where I was the girl I used to be. The girl I’d lost. And in that split second, I saw my father, who had given every ounce of his being to help me beat the disease. He had stepped down from his job, grown tired with worry and old with despair. He didn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and felt like he had failed as a father. My father, who had an answer for everything, a proud man, feeling so utterly helpless. Defeated. In that moment, I was daddy’s little girl, just like I had always been. I remembered back to the days of playing beauty parlor with him when he watched TV at night, allowing me to put colorful barrettes in his hair, like the saint he was. I remembered him tucking me in every single night, telling me bedtime stories and sitting me with me as I fell asleep. I remembered him teaching me how to play poker with pennies on the living room floor, how he’d comfort me when I was scared during thunderstorms, and how he’d be at every play, recital, and sporting event with that “proud father” smile. He had given me the world, and I was lying to him and abusing that unending love. Looking at him, I saw how much I was hurting him. And that’s when I conceded to go to rehab: A combination of mainly being scared shitless that my father would use the papers he had drawn up to have me committed to a state-run mental institution, and the fact that I was unconscionably hurting the father I loved so deeply.

But that’s why it didn’t work. That’s why I relapsed before I even left R. I went, not because I wanted to get better, but because I was forced and I wasn’t doing it for me.

She has to want to get better

I was at inpatient for three months. Well, let’s be honest. I was there for three months minus three days. I was “better” for two months and 27 days. Then for the last three days I internally freaked out that I was nearing my “safe weight,” which to be clear was still significantly less than my goal weight. My discharge plan had me continuing to gain on my own back at home until I reached my weight range. They suggested that I continue on to an R-sponsored home care – RLP — but I was adamant about living back home in the midwest. Or rather, back home in my eating disorder. I was adamant about going to college – About getting as far away from home as possible, back with my ED, and back getting the weight off of me ASAP. At inpatient, I started getting Ulcerative Colitis symptoms, and really played it up that I was concerned about going back into a UC flare just so that I could get the hell out of there and back to my ED.

Although inpatient didn’t cure my anorexia, it did lay the foundation for my true recovery, which happened later. But there was one episode that stuck out to me. Everyone goes through “Family Weekend,” where your family comes out to visit for a long weekend and you work through group and one-on-one therapy sessions. The purpose is to help everyone express how the eating disorder has effected them, how they’re feeling, what they’re concerned about, past hurts, etc. The goal is to “unpack the baggage” that has contributed to this ED monster.

The assignment was to make an art project about how anorexia has impacted you, or made you feel. To be honest, I don’t remember much of what my family made or said — I was too busy being preoccupied with self-hatred and thinking about all the calories present in my body. But I do remember what I had made, and I think it will shed a lot of light on the disease to the loved ones of those battling it.

I made a black box, or coffin, out of construction paper. And inside the black box was a bunch of brightly colored confetti.

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The box, I said, represented my disease. The brightly colored confetti was who I was pre-anorexia: I was vibrant. I was exciting. I had passion, zest, life, energy, love, zeal. Anorexia took all those things and killed them, as it was slowly killing me.

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That’s the thing that people don’t understand. They see their daughter or their friend wasting away. “Where’s the silly girl I love?” “Where’s the goofy girl who loves to play outside, hang with her friends, watch movies and eat popcorn?” “Where did she go? If I could just reach her…If I could just find her again…”

And that’s precisely it. Because the truth is, If I could reach her, then I wouldn’t be here, wasting away. I’ve lost her and I cannot find her anymore either.

Loved ones don’t understand. Anorexics are typically smart girls. Brilliant, even. So then why don’t they just get it? Why don’t they just eat? “She’s a smart girl, why doesn’t she just eat the damn food!?”

I think the hardest thing about anorexia for the loved ones of the sufferers, is that they want to be able to fix it. They want to be able to cure the disease. That was my father. He was always the problem solver. That was his gift. But he saw my anorexia as a problem: I had Ulcerative Colitis and was unable to gain weight because of a medical issue: my pyloric valve was paralyzed and as a result my stomach wouldn’t empty; it hurt to eat; I wasn’t absorbing nutrients. If I could just get enough calories then I would be fixed. So he did what he does best: he problem solved. He researched weight gaining drinks and ended up finding some incredible, non-FDA approved and super-caloric weight gaining drink from Scandinavia that he had shipped to the house. He had crates of Ensure drinks in the garage. He was going to fix it. Fix me. He took walks with me to help me digest the food that I was “trying so hard to absorb.” He believed that he could fix it -That he could fix me.

But try as he might, he couldn’t. Because here’s the long and the short of eating disorders that makes them so deadly and perverse:

She has to want to get better.

 

Period. End of story. That’s what’s so heart breaking – is that her mom, dad, friends, boyfriend, loved ones – they can pull out their hair, bend over backwards, go to Timbuktu and back to help get her to eat and to gain weight, but at the end of the day, she has to make the decision that she wants to end the disease and get on with her life. That’s the truth. That’s what needs to be understood.

And that’s why it’s so confusing: anorexia is not about the weight. That’s why inpatient doesn’t always, or usually, work. Just because the weight is on, doesn’t mean that the disease has “left the building.” That’s why people relapse. That’s why I relapsed. Because I hadn’t silenced the voice of death yet.

Who am I?

Who am I?

The healthy young woman in front of you today is not the same person she was eight years ago.

I have seen things. Experienced things. Know things that can only be learned through pain. Desperation. And deliverance.

Who am I? I’m a young lady who has recovered from anorexia. And I’m sharing with you my story.

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As I sit down to write something that is insurmountable in its gravity, overwhelming in importance, and disgraceful in its honesty, I feel impossibly vulnerable and am reminded of my shame. For with these words I will be exposing the tortured reality that over ten million women and one million men in the US have to face every single moment of every day: anorexia.

I’ve been in recovery for eight years, but to be completely honest, the disease never truly goes away. The voice of death, or “ED” as the inpatient centers like to refer to it, never fully silences. It can get muffled or muted, but never truly snuffed. Every single day I have to wake up and decide that I’m going to choose recovery. Choose life. And I am 26 years old.

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I’ve taken on this task of exposing the raw truth behind life with anorexia, so as to offer insight and hope to the loved ones of those with this harrowing disease. For if you are reading these words, you are most likely at your wit’s end, out of ideas, and desperate to get your loved one to eat and kick this eating disorder.

I find it shocking how misunderstood this disease is. In talking with my family and friends about when I was in the thick – or rather, thin – of my disease, no one really understood what was going on or how they could help. All they saw was a girl, who from the outside used to have everything going for her, now wasting away – deteriorating to 78 pounds. Everyone’s verbiage was similar — they all felt their “hands were tied,” helpless, unable to make me gain weight, unable to get through to the girl I used to be.

That’s the thing: anorexia makes you draw completely into yourself – or rather, completely into the spiral of the disease. You become an unrecognizable shell of your former self – physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually. You care about nothing else, except for your disease, and your control over the numbers on the scale.

To describe a typical day, and to fully understand the state of mind would be nearly impossible. I will try, but it is hard to fully grasp the depth of darkness or the pervasive nature of the disease. In order to fully understand, it is important to realize that these thoughts are coming from the state of someone whose brain was literally foggy. At 5’6” and 78 pounds, the lack of body fat is so severe that the brain’s cushion of fat pads have literally deteriorated, making clear thinking and sound decision making out of the question.

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Who am I? I am no longer that lost girl anymore.

I am free.

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